Commissioners issued a request for qualifications for the tower during Thursday’s board meeting in a 4-0 vote, with Woody Thompson absent.
Airport manager Karl Von Hagel said the new tower should be in place by fall of 2014.
The county expects the Federal Aviation Administration to pay for half the cost, county chairman Tim Lee said, with the rest coming out of the General Fund.
The existing tower, which has a floor 31 feet above ground, was built in 1994 for $360,000.
“It’s not terribly old in age, but when it was built in 1994 it was built as a starter control tower, meaning that it was built with all local funds, and the primary goal of it was efficiency of cost,” Von Hagel said. “When we constructed it, we did as little as we had to to be compliant since it was all local funding involved.”
Commissioners also approved a $94,590 expense with The LPA Group, Inc., an engineering consultant, to determine the best location and size of the new tower.
The current tower is square with four windows. The corners of the windows are supported by frames which cause visibility problems. FAA guidelines call for control towers that are shaped as hexagons to eliminate blind spots, Von Hagel said.
Von Hagel addressed a rumor that a hangar built in 2002 beside the tower by one of the fixed-base operators at McCollum, Atlanta Executive Jet Center, was the reason the county had to build the new tower. Von Hagel said he’s heard some pilots allege that the 12,000-square-foot hangar, which rises to about 30 feet in height by the tower, was violating FAA rules by creating a blind spot for traffic controllers.
“That’s not the case,” Von Hagel said. “But it does create a blind spot on the parking apron where the aircraft park.”
However, controllers are not required to see the parking apron, he said.
Another problem is that as aircraft come in from the northwest, they don’t become visible “until late in the process” because of the height of the tower relative to the height of the trees and the hills that are to the northwest of the airport, he said.
“All of these put together create a diminished situational awareness for the controller,” he said.
The airport contributes $112.4 million to the local economy each year, with 842 local jobs dependent on activity conducted at the airport. There are about 225 aircraft based at McCollum Field and about 186 takeoffs or landings every day, Von Hagel said.
“It’s important,” Lee said. “The airport is such a huge economic grinder for us in terms of developing the opportunity for fleets. In fact, we had an aircraft leave the other day from our airport who went all the way down to Argentina. As soon as we get customs in — that’s another thing we’re going to bring this fall — that will increase the number of flights coming in directly from overseas. Having a good tower with good visibly and communication is important for the safety, not only for the aircraft and the pilots and the folks on the aircraft, but the people who work there as well.”
Private and corporate jets flying from outside of the country have not been able to land at McCollum Field because it lacks a customs inspection office. That will soon change because of a deal the county recently struck with Atlanta Executive Jet Center, which will build a facility and pay the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to operate it.
The deal calls for Atlanta Executive to reimburse the county for all expenses related to the customs service for up to 10 years. The cost of the customs operation is estimated at $140,000 in the first year of operation, and $120,000 per year thereafter. The $140,000 will not begin until the building is put into operation, which will be Sept 30, Von Hagel said. Atlanta Executive Jet Center must also build a facility that meets the standards of U.S. Customs. The proposed 2,500-square-foot customs building, which will be located on the south apron, is estimated to cost $450,000.
In other business Thursday, the commissioners allotted $136,220 to renovate the Tax Commissioner’s Motor Vehicle satellite office in the East Cobb Government Service Center. The work is in reaction to Georgia’s new car tax law that goes into effect on March 1, which is expected to cause a good deal of public frustration, Tax Commissioner Gail Downing said.
“The overall protection of customers, employees, cash and inventory at our East Cobb Motor Vehicle Satellite needs to be addressed,” Downing writes in the agenda item. “It is anticipated that the implementation of HB386 on March 1, 2013 will result in a more complex and contentious tag, title and registration transactions as well as an increase in the amount of cash handled by our staff.”
The proposed new office layout would better allow Downing to control public access to restricted work areas while also improving customer service, she writes.
Also Thursday, commissioners made several appointments.
Rose Wing was appointed to the Historic Preservation Commission to serve out the remainder of Karen Lockhart’s term, which expires on Dec. 31, 2014. Wing was nominated by Commissioner JoAnn Birrell.
Roger Phelps was reappointed to the Board of Tax Assessors, nominated by Commissioner Bob Ott.
Peggy Holbrook was reappointed to the Cobb Public Library Board, nominated by Commissioner Helen Goreham.
Commissioner-elect Lisa Cupid was appointed to the Solid Waste Management Authority, replacing outgoing Thompson. Cupid was nominated by Lee.
All votes were 4-0. Thompson, who will be replaced by Cupid in January, did not attend the last commission meeting of the year.